SWAMPSCOTT — Today, when the Swampscott High football team opens its season at Blocksidge Field against Greater Lawrence Regional Tech (noon), perhaps it would be a great time to ponder the fate of the young man after whom the complex is named.
It has a lot of relevance, not only for the obvious reason that the field upon which so much Swampscott athletic history and glory occurred is named in his honor, but because it was 100 years ago Sept. 2 that Cpl. John Enos Blocksidge died on a battlefield in northeastern France in the waning days of World War I.
In April of 1918, Blocksidge enlisted in the U.S. Army, and by July he was shipped overseas as part of the American Expeditionary Force, Company G, as an infantryman.
That’s three months between the time of enlistment and the time he went to France to fight. Two months later, he died as the result of shell fire at the Battle of Juvigny, north of Soissons.
I’m not one of those people who fault 16- and 17-year-old kids for not knowing this. Who knows, for example, that Manning Field in Lynn is named after former mayor J. Fred Manning; or that Fraser Field is named for former city councilor and baseball aficionado Eugene Fraser?
If you travel through Hoey Square in Lynn every day, you perhaps wouldn’t know that it’s named for Thomas Y. Hoey, who gave his life in World War II.
They are merely names on a sign. I think more attention should be paid to what’s behind the sign, as opposed to what’s on it.
It may surprise some people, but there was serious opposition to the U.S. getting involved in World War I. The U.S. didn’t enter the war until midway through president Woodrow Wilson’s second term, a term for which he campaigned in 1916 with the slogan “he kept us out of war.” But by 1917, Germany was sinking American ships in the Atlantic, and war became inevitable.
So, out of patriotism to a country thrust suddenly into harm’s way, men like John Blocksidge enlisted. And died.
That’s not much different than it is today. Over the last two decades, the U.S. has found itself in harm’s way in the War on Terror, and a new generation of John Blocksidges has taken up arms to defend the United States. One of them, Staff Sgt. Christopher Piper, was killed in Afghanistan. The football field at Marblehead is named in his honor.
After Blocksidge died, his body was buried in an American cemetery at Aisne, France. His remains were returned to the United States, and arrived home in Swampscott Jan. 13, 1921. He was buried with full military honors in Swampscott Cemetery three days later.
I fear that we sometimes cavalierly throw around the names, or the memories, of our war dead to prove a point. This has happened way too often these days, drawing the sacrifice these men and women have made into divisive arguments over whether Nike should have featured Colin Kaepernick in its present advertising campaign; or whether Kaepernick himself is violating the spirit of their sacrifices by kneeling during the national anthem out of protests over social injustice.
I sometimes wonder whether, if John Blocksidge could speak beyond the grave, he’d be OK with being dragged into these debates, or whether he’d ask, respectfully, that we stop.
Beyond all that, though, it would be a very nice gesture if, prior to today’s game — and every game on that field through this school year — John Blocksidge’s memory be observed with a moment of silence to acknowledge the sacrifice he made on behalf of the country.